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Theodore C. Lyster Collection 1898-1990
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Biography

Biographical Note

Theodore C. Lyster, M.D. (1875-1933) was a United States Army physician and aviation medicine pioneer. He is often referred to as the "Father of (Army) aviation medicine." He was the son of U.S. Army Captain William J. and Martha Doughty Lyster. His childhood was spent in various posts around the country. As a boy Lyster contracted yellow fever while living in Fort Brown, Texas and was treated by William Gorgas, then a young post surgeon. Gorgas would later marry Lyster's aunt and the two would eventually serve together in Cuba and Panama.

In 1898 Lyster left his second year of medical school at the University of Michigan and entered the Army to serve in the Spanish-American War. Immune to yellow fever thanks to his childhood infection, Private Lyster served on the Hospital Ship "Relief" then subsequently at yellow fever hospitals in Cuba. After a bout with typhoid fever he was discharged from the Army and completed his medical degree. He petitioned the Army Surgeon-General to become a contract surgeon in Cuba to gain the practical experience necessary to become a medical officer. Twice refused, he turned to his uncle for help and Gorgas got the approval. In 1900 Lt. Lyster rejoined the regular Army as executive officer for William Gorgas and second in command of the Sanitary Department of Havana. Leading the anti-mosquito work under Gorgas's command, he played a significant role with the Walter Reed Commission's work in orchestrating efforts to reduce the impact of yellow fever which was then blossoming in Cuba.

Lyster was transferred to New York in 1901 where he became interested in eye, ear, nose, and throat diseases (EENT). By 1903 he was in charge of ophthalmology services at the U.S. Military Academy Cadet Hospital and assistant surgeon at Manhattan Eye and Ear Hospital. But when Gorgas was appointed head of sanitary services for construction of the Panama Canal he again requested Lyster as his executive officer as well as an appointment to a special yellow fever board. He later became Chief Surgeon of EENT diseases for the Panama Canal Zone. From 1907-1915 Lyster traveled the world as EENT expert for the Army Medical Corps.

Lyster's contributions to aviation medicine started in 1916 as America began eyeing its entry into World War I. He was assigned the problem of developing physical standards for aviators. He spearheaded the development of not only standardized medical examinations for incoming volunteers across the nation, but also programs for ensuring their health and capabilities throughout a career through establishing training regimens, performing experiments on the effects of high altitude flying, developing apparatus for supplying oxygen, and a medical classification system for differentiating pilots' suitability to be fighter pilots, day or night bombers, or observation pilots. General Lyster left the Army in 1919.

In 1914 Lyster also started working with the Rockefeller Foundation Yellow Fever Commission's eradication campaigns, again on a recommendation from Gorgas. After retiring from he military he returned to this work starting with a five month journey to survey Central America and organize mosquito eradication program areas. He then traveled to Brazil in 1920, working with Fred Soper. He was appointed Director of Yellow Fever Control for Mexico and Central America before returning to Los Angeles in 1921 to start his private ophthalmology practice with two former army colleagues.